The story of Fear Factory is not one of triumph and tragedy per se but it is one of incredible highs, serious lows and a name that has been embroiled in legal murk and drama that has at times threatened to eclipse the band’s legacy. The band’s last album, 2021’s Aggressive Continuum – while being an excellent album – drew a messy line under the saga as Fear Factory’s long-time vocalist and co-founder Burton C Bell left the year before it was released, citing the past legal disputes as the reason for the departure. With guitarist and co-founder Dino Cazares vowing to carry on and taking his time to find a new vocalist with Milo Silvestro being announced as Bell’s replacement in early 2023.
Fear Factory formed in Los Angeles in 1989 and even from the beginning were not short of a legal spat – the band recorded songs but were unhappy with their contract and refused to sign. Fear Factory retained the rights to the songs which were re-recorded and formed the debut album proper Soul of A New Machine in 1992. The album fused musical genres; death metal meshed with industrial and with Bell’s vocal stylings blending growls with clean vocals, even in their earliest days, the Californian crew can rightly be hailed as pioneers. Opening the doors to experimentation, the band even issued a remix EP of songs from the debut album – titled Fear Is a Mindkiller – making the reworked music almost dance-able. It is their 1995 album Demanufacture that is Fear Factory’s defining work, the razor riffing, the rapid-fire drumming, a tight, modern production, and the dystopian theme not only put the quartet on the map but also created a milestone in metal’s evolution. Followed by Obsolete in 1998, Fear Factory continued the man-versus-machine schematic in a conceptual style and with singles Descent and a cover of Gary Numan’s Cars (featuring Numan himself) bringing attention to the album Obsolete became a major chart success and remains the only Fear Factory album to reach Gold status in the US
The wheels steadily began to come loose with 2001’s underwhelming Digi-Mortal album that was driven by Fear Factory’s label’s insistence to capitalise on the success of Obsolete by writing more accessible material. This – along with personal differences boiling over – Burton C Bell left in 2002 with Fear Factory in effect disbanding with Dino Cazares on one side and his former band members on the other. The band reformed without Cazares and released Archetype in 2004 – a solid album that spat venom, both at Cazares and former labels and this was followed up a year later with the polarising Transgression. The band toured the album but rather than breaking up, the members of Fear Factory went on hiatus and drifted to their own projects. In 2009, it was announced that Bell and Cazares had rekindled their friendship and formed a new version of Fear Factory replacing Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera with bassist Byron Stroud and drummer Gene Hoglan. It is at this point where the next entry in the Fear Factory cannon is the first of the two 2023 reissues.
Originally released in 2010, Mechanize is the sound of a band reborn but the masterstroke is the backbone of Stroud and Hoglan which pours petrol on the fire of Bell and Cazares’ renewed friendship. The title tacks open proceedings like a rabid dog; Bell’s vocals on the verses snarl and sets the pace and tone of the record which is one built around aggression but with its fibres tweaked for maximum effect. It is a similar story for Industrial Discipline and the switching between thrashier drum patterns and some insane double kick. There is no doubt that Mechanize is a drum heavy album which fits with the band ideal, machine like, pneumatic, almost robotic and Hoglan brings the goods to the role which has Cazares coming into his own with that incisor like riffing keeping pace. Powershifter has enough melody to be catchy on the chorus that does some middle ground – while Christploitation has a creepy piano opening that then thumps along with some more of that superb double kick drum which may induce a migraine before dropping into an all too brief flurry of guitar in the mid-section. Fear Factory is about the contrast though and the excellent 8-minute Final Exit adds the light to shade in spectacular piece with string arrangements and an ear-worm chorus. The reissue is not remastered, and the Mechanize did actually receive a vinyl release at the time but with brand new vinyl editions and bonus tracks – the re-recorded version of Martyr is an absolute monster – the re-issue Mechanize is a reminder of a rebirth of sorts for Fear Factory and an album that does sit along with their best material.
While technically Re-Industrialized is a re-issue, there is one element of it that differs from the original album The Industrialist which was released in 2012. By this point, Fear Factory was (as per the liner notes) ‘essentially’ Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares – out was bassist Byron Stroud and drummer Gene Hoglan – with a drum machine taking Hoglan’s place. Considering the long-standing theme at Fear Factory’s core with the human versus machine, there was some irony that the drum sound was clinical and mechanic which leant towards a sterile album sound. Re-Industrialzed addresses this by replacing the drum machine with live drums performed by current drummer Mike Heller and along with new guitar passages and the remix (courtesy of Greg Reely) there is a more organic feel to the material and The Industrialist is now revitalised and renewed within Re-Industrialzed. With the title track and New Messiah and God Eater sounding more cinematic, the overall concept is more prevalent and powerful. As with Mechanize, Re-Industrialized gets a vinyl release and bonus tracks but there is one curiosity in that Enhanced Reality, a track from the following album Genexus sits between Religion Is Flawed Because Man Is Flawed and Human Augmentation. With the former being an instrumental and the latter nine minutes of effects, hammer on anvil noises and a disembodied voice, having the softer edged Enhanced Reality in between does bring the album downhill to a more consistent close – although Human Augmentation may serve some conceptual purpose, it is still a lengthy track and could have the same effect at half its length. With another five bonus tracks including a couple of remixes, all credit to the band for revisiting Re-Industrialized and rather than just tweaking have reconfigured it to make it an album that has its original spirit intact.
Demanufacture has every right to be considered a classic album and with Obsolete not far behind – the 1990s was a stellar period for Fear Factory. As much as the new millenium was a tumultuous time, the pieces did come back together with the jump-start of Meachanize – an album that should be considered one of Fear Factory’s new millenium best. As much as these re-issues will be seen as a stop gap while preparing for a new chapter with their new vocalist, Mechanize and especially Re-Industrialized have enough under the bonnet to make them worth a re-visit. New vocalist Milo Silvestro does have some mighty boots to fill and he will be aware that the metal world will be watching to see how one of heavy music’s most enduring bands takes on this brand new chapter.
No pressure, then.